What's the best personal audio device for $150?
December 29, 2003 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I am looking to purchase a portable personal audio device. I have researched MP3 players, which are the expensive side for the amount of storage I would like, and the Mini-Disc players, which seem to come with buggy software. Also, I have had a hard time finding any articles that do a good job of describing the sound quality of Mini-Discs. I don't want to spend more than $150. Can anyone recommend one over the other? Had any experience with both?
posted by studentbaker to Shopping (20 answers total)
The sound quality of Mini-Discs is far in excess of any headphones you're likely to be using.
posted by nthdegx at 9:28 AM on December 29, 2003

I've got the Sony mz-nf610 minidisc player, and I'm only so-so happy with it. Don't get me wrong, it has incredible sound, and it comes with a good remote and a TV/weather/FM/AM tuner. I've just been disappointed with the amount of storage. I put four or five albums on a disc, and I end up carrying about five discs with me at a time. That's good, but not great. I keep thinking I should have gone with one of the mass storage mp3 devices capable of carrying my entire library.

Also, the rumor is that Apple will be announcing new mini-ipods in January, with 2-4 gb capacities, starting at about $100. I'd at least wait to see if that pans out.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:44 AM on December 29, 2003

Oh, and you can't upload from the Minidisc to the computer. One way only.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:45 AM on December 29, 2003

I have an Sony MZG-750DPC MiniDisc player, which I bought when the only MP3 players were hideously expensive units with puny storage such as 32 or 64MB flash memory. If I were buying now, I might have gone with a hard-drive-based MP3 player.
However if you are not looking to spend much, MD is a great alternative - the quality is excellent and my unit has an FM tuner built into the wired remote.
email me studentbaker.
posted by ac at 9:46 AM on December 29, 2003

You might want to consider waiting to make a purchase until after January 6th - all indications seem to point to Apple using the upcoming Macworld show to introduce iPod models that, while holding only 2-4GBs of material, are expected to be in the price range you're talking about. For my money, a portable player like the iPod wins over MiniDisc simply because there's nothing external to have to remember to bring with you. Even a 2GB iPod will carry, what? 50 CDs or so, if you encode them with AAC instead of MP3?
posted by JollyWanker at 9:57 AM on December 29, 2003

Not to sound like a viral ad but I love my iPod. It truly has changed the way I listen to music. I am not sure how iTunes works on the PC but on the Mac they work perfectly together. I was silly and bought a 20gig which is pointless if you have a computer with a large harddrive and access to it once a week or so. I have 5 playlists, one for each day of my commute, and once a week just repopulate them from the harddrive. I have "smartplaylists" set up so no song in them has been listened to in the last 14 days. I am constantly rediscovering things all the time.

Rumours on the Mac sites have Apple introducing a miniPod or something, only 2 or 4gigs. I don't put much stock in the Apple-rumour mongers but if they make a 2 gig for under $100 I will get one for my wife for her birthday in Feb.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 9:59 AM on December 29, 2003

I am such a music junkie, prone to be struck an a whim to hear disparate music. I didn't think I could be happy unless I was getting the 40 GB iPod, but could not afford that kind of scratch for one. So I got an iRiver SlimX 350 CD MP3 player and love it. I now constantly have about 90 GB of music in a CD wallet that is of reasonable size. The iRiver is durable, and won't even skip when it falls off the stairmaster. Its batteries can literally play all day on a charge and they are rechargeable in the unit (and replaceable). Its very compact also, for something that has to spin up a CD. The MSRP is $130; I had no trouble finding the unit for $90 roughly.

I like the minidisc, but the compatibility of a CD full of MP3s (or WMA and OGG support on the horizon) is hard to beat.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 10:32 AM on December 29, 2003

I had a Sony MZ-S1. Beautiful little device, ergonomically. Made to fit right in your hand, it was perfect for me to take over to the laundry on the corner so I could listen to a little Velvet Underground while waiting for my clothes to dry.

But I never used it beyond that. As reported, the Sony NetMD software is very convoluted and unfriendly. The primary application has this strange "check in/check out" system that only allows you to put a certain amount of tracks on your MD at any given time. I had more success with one of their supplemental applications that just allowed me to pop an audio CD in my PC and pull the contents over to the MD. I was usually able to get two or three albums on one that way.

The sound was great and the battery life was exceptional. But it just wasn't useful. I ended up going back to my iRiver SlimX 350 CD/MP3 player. Much easier operation and no restrictions on content. And the MD player? Sold it on eBay.
posted by grabbingsand at 10:40 AM on December 29, 2003

i got my MD player for free....everyone is getting rid of the MD's for mp3s.

a friend of mine bought an iPod and retired his MD player and 40 disks full of great music into my hands.

Of course with an iPod you could have all of that music in one place. Myself, i like being able to pop in a disc that has 3 different oingo boingo albums and actually listen to the whole thing. I like to listen to something in its entirety before switching to something else, rather than passively sitting thru a huge playlist. but that is just me.

Oh, and with the right unit, you can record live shows or your own music pretty easily, that is why my wife got her MD recorder--do any of the mp3 players let you record audio?
posted by th3ph17 at 10:49 AM on December 29, 2003

I'm with spartacusroosevelt and grabbingsand. For portable audio on a budget, an MP3-capable CD player is tough to beat (unless you're planning to use it while jogging or something).
posted by pmurray63 at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2003

Another vote for waiting to see if the mini-iPods bring their heads up.

Also you could try keeping an eye out for refurbished iPods like this one.

Another option if you raise your range any is the Dell player. While not as good as the iPod, it does have a good price on it for the capacity.

I've synced my iPod to both iTunes Mac and iTunes Windows and it works perfectly in both scenarios.
posted by benjh at 10:55 AM on December 29, 2003

I got a MD player in '99, and I really loved using it, the only problem was the recording the discs took too long, I didn't have the patience for it. In '01 I switched to using a MP3 CD player, and in '03 I got an iPod for Windows.

In my experience my JVC MD produces an excellent sound just slightly better than my iPod, I still use the MD player for live recordings, but beyond that I've given up on it.

As for sound quality, almost all players come bundled with crappy headphones, 'cept I think Rio Karma comes with Senns MX400s.

You can get killer sound from your iPod if you use a good headphone/earphone with it, such Grados, Etys, Shure, Senns, etc. Of course the added killer sound comes at a price.

As everyone's said above wait for the Mac World, an iPod is definitely the way to go.
posted by riffola at 11:47 AM on December 29, 2003

Definitely wait a week for the mini-iPods. I've got the 10G ($299, ow) model, and love it, but will pick up a cheap 2G model to take back and forth to work - I won't worry if I lose it or it gets stolen.
posted by mrbill at 12:01 PM on December 29, 2003

I got a Philips MP3 CD player. Cheap CD-Rs, or RWs burnt as your tastes dictate. Darn sight cheaper than an iPod, or similar HDD-based jukebox.

I wouldn't touch a NetMD minidisk with someone else's bargepole, for reasons already mentioned.
posted by Blue Stone at 12:04 PM on December 29, 2003

(unless you're planning to use it while jogging or something)

The iRiver I and grabbingsand spoke of has held up on the stairmaster and treadmill with nary a skip.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 1:21 PM on December 29, 2003

The only issue with the iRiver and being active is not it's durability, because the shock-proofing is very thorough, but its unavoidable dimensions. The SlimX is mostly round, only slightly larger than a CD, and it comes in a velvet drawstring bag. But it does not have a belt-clip. However, you can order a tougher, leatherish carrying case with a belt loop built into the back of it.
posted by grabbingsand at 1:32 PM on December 29, 2003

I'm excited to hear about these new ipods. Yes, I've got a big music collection but I feel no compulsion to carry it around with me. Far more important to me is a system that allows me to get music on and off the machine quickly and easily. Ipods do that, but previously I'd have been paying for space I really don't need. While I do think MD's are getting a harder time than they deserve, here, I do think this new ipod sounds like the mutt's.
posted by nthdegx at 2:09 AM on December 30, 2003

Thanks for all the great info. I think I will wait and see what Steve has up his sleeve. A 2G ipod would be perfect for my needs. If the rumors are false, I think I'll go with an iRiver.
posted by studentbaker at 6:19 AM on December 30, 2003

Minidiscs never really caught on, and now they're dying out - I wouldn't bother.

You could get an MP3-CD player for about $70 - which is a reasonable compromise between capacity and convenience, but the physical size of CDs is exactly why Minidisc was released.

I'd say you should either wait to see what these new iPods are like or save up and get a 20gig Zen NX - only slightly above your budget, but a true jukebox. (I have the 30gig one - controls are iffy, screen is last-generation, but value for money is great.)
posted by cell at 6:43 AM on December 30, 2003

posted by studentbaker at 12:44 PM on January 2, 2004

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